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Union boss who shook down longshoremen gets 28 months in federal prison

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

BEYOND BERGEN: A former longshoremen’s union vice president was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison today for his role in shaking down members at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth for Christmas season tribute.

Nunzio LaGrasso, 64, of Florham Park, previously admitted conspiring to extort the holiday payments from members of ILA Local 1478, following the largest Mafia roundup in the history of the New York/New Jersey area more than four years ago.

A slew of witnesses and tapes secretly made during high-level mob meetings led to the arrests of nearly 130 members and associates of seven Mafia organizations — including the New Jersey-based Decavalcante Crime Family — some of whom were charged with murder, extortion, theft and a host of other federal crimes stretching back nearly 30 years.

Through a series of indictments on both sides of the Hudson, federal prosecutors said they dismantled organizations that had run wild for decades — stealing everything from electronics to cigarettes, carrying out hits and extorting honest businessmen who paid up so they wouldn‘t have limbs broken or businesses destroyed.

The indictments unsealed in January 2011 read like primers on the businesses of the Colombos, as well as the Bonanno, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese crime families, among others, explaining members’ roles in each enterprise and the workings of the La Costra Nostra “Commission,” a ruling class of the leaders of each family. Taken together, they laid out what for many has seemed TV or film myth.

(SEE: Indictments in biggest New York/New Jersey Mafia bust read like organized crime manuals)

Arrests in the coordinated efforts stretched from Rhode Island to Delaware.

In New Jersey, 15 mobsters and associates were charged — among them, LaGrasso and 59-year-old co-defendant Stephen Depiro of Kenilworth, who managed the Genovese family’s control over the New Jersey waterfront since at least 2005.

Depiro was charged along with LaGrasso in the Christmas shakedown.

Crime-family members also extorted a concrete contractor working on Liberty View Harbor in Jersey City, threatening to seriously hurt him and his business if he didn‘t pay up, the government said. The same was done to other businessmen in Manhattan, Staten Island and New Jersey, indictments returned by federal grand juries alleged.

During their guilty pleas, LaGrasso, Depiro and 79-year-old co-defendant Albert Cernadas of Union – a former ILA Local 1235 president and executive vice president — admitted “conspiring to compel tribute payments from ILA union members who made the payments based
on actual and threatened force, violence and fear,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

“The timing of the extortions typically coincided with the receipt by certain ILA members of ‘Container Royalty Fund’ checks, a form of year-end compensation,” the U.S. attorney said.

“Our ports and those who work there play vital roles in our region’s economy and security,” Fishman said. “Paying tribute to the mob is not an acceptable cost of doing business in New Jersey.

“Workers should be free to pursue an honest living without being worried that their own union representatives will shake them down.”

DePiro is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Newark on Friday.

Fishman credited the FBI’s New Jersey agents, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

He also also thanked the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor for its cooperation and assistance in the investigation.

Representing the government are Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis of the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mahajan of Fishman’s office.

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